Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street

It’s not every day you hear a homicidal barber described as “a mood,” but that is precisely how Noah Pleunik describes his role in Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. The first show in Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center’s You’re Home series and Pleunik’s first lead, this musical showcases the mental decline of a wrongly-imprisoned barber and his obsession with revenge.

In an interview with The SIREN, Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School’s newspaper, he says, “I really like [Todd’s] zest.” This is a wild understatement when watching Pleunik’s performance. His portrayal of Sweeney Todd was unsettling and fervent. Watching Pleunik move about the stage, razor blades in hand, felt dangerous, even from the middle of the theater.

Pleunik’s performance was one of a select few that lived up to the vocal expectations of the show, as well. Often revered as one of the most beloved musicals in history, Stephen Sondheim’s compositions are no small feat to perform. Pleunik’s performance did not suffer from this pressure, and his voice rang deep and intense throughout the show. But alas, not every actor was able to keep up in this demanding production.

Todd’s daughter Johanna, portrayed by McKenna Howell, looked to birds for her singing lessons. Unfortunately, Howell’s vocals seemed to suffer from being too warbly as a result. I do believe her voice was intended to lilt, though not to this extent. She often drowned out her counterparts, especially the much more reserved voice of Anthony Hope, played by Mathew Fedorek.

I suppose, though, that it may not have been Howell’s fault, but that of Tae Jong Park, the Center’s sound director, who struggled throughout the night. Malfunctioning microphones and ear-shattering vocals were among the many problems that arose. This made it nearly impossible to understand some of the cast members.

Their forced accents didn’t help. Perhaps the only actors who spoke and sang inconsistent accents were Pleunik, Lucia Williams (who played Mrs. Lovett), and Connor Bahr (who portrayed two characters in one: an Irishman named Daniel O’Higgins moonlighting as the Italian barber Adolfo Pirelli). It was unfortunate to hear them slipping out of their accents, and it was made even more apparent by the consistency of those who were able to keep it up. I thought it was just me who had difficulties, but that wasn’t the case. On the way home, I had to catch up my plus-one, providing context for the things that she couldn’t make out clearly. This is perhaps the most glaring issue with the show. If your audience can’t follow what’s going on, they will not enjoy their experience, and due to these incoherencies and sound problems, I found it hard to enjoy the otherwise splendid production.

I would, however, like to commend one actor in particular for his valiant performance. Shea Curran, the high-school junior who played Tobias Ragg, handled his challenging role with grace, yet just the right amount of charm. His charismatic portrayal of the dim-witted young man was innocent and sweet. That is, right up until he goes mad from the discovery of Sweeney and Mrs. Lovett’s cannibalistic tendencies. I believe that to be the most successful aspect of Curran’s performance: the switch made from his childlike nature to one much like Sweeney, bent on vengeance.

Another impressive aspect of this show was the set, a rotating, four-sided centerpiece, and two surrounding buildings. It was a dynamic and exciting way to stage the production, and one method I hadn’t seen before this show. The design was dimensional and compelling, my favorite feature is the chute through which Todd’s victims were thrown for Mrs. Lovett to process. It was a striking visual that churned my stomach in the very best way.

In spite of its issues, Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street was a chilling tale of obsession that I enjoyed nonetheless. I would love to go back, even, and give the show another chance after sound kinks have (hopefully) been worked out and any potential first-night jitters have been overcome. Was I expecting better? Absolutely. But I won’t bite anyone’s head off over the details.

Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street runs at the Lincoln Park Performing Arts Center Oct. 12-14, and 19-21. Tickets are available at the Box Office, or by visiting lincolnparkarts.org.
Bec Kashuba is a senior at Lincoln Park Performing Arts Charter School whose work has been featured in Blue Marble Review, as well as several local newspapers. A barista by trade, Bec doesn’t actually care much for coffee, nor the song “Margaritaville.”

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